Archive for biography

Chardin and Stillness

Chardin‘s only child committed suicide.  The great still life painter had lavished a classical artistic education on his son,  (Chardin hadn’t received such an education himself, but had longed for it).  The boy had tried, struggled not very diligently, started many paintings, finished few, and at the age of 41 threw himself into a canal in Venice.  Chardin was 72.

So there’s a horrofic irony in the still lifes that Chardin had spent his whole life painting.  Arranged in softly arresting forms; pots, pitchers, fruit, and more often than not, dead game or fish; a rabbit, or a bird, draped carelessly among the mix or hung from a wall.  Recently killed, an opaque eye or a limp paw unsettles the otherwise peaceful scene. 

 Chardin’s paintings give new meaning to the gently oxymoronic term “still life”.  The objects are excessively still, the game completely lifeless, the painted scene could only be in a room where no people are or have been within the hour; that solemn limbo time between the morning hunt and preparations for the midday meal; after death but before the participation in life.  Chardin captured it unerringly time and time again.

And those seven years after his son had died and he lived on?  I’ve wondered a little, vaguely, and not until now giving the question a form, whether those years were those still lifes, taking the form of his own . . .

Georgia O’Keefe as an American Icon

Georgia O’Keefe has become a mythical figure; a solitary woman ensconced in the landscape of New Mexico.  As a young woman she “saw” another woman’s husband, eventually married him, and later still, experienced the emotional turmoil of his philandering.   Through her work it was obvious she identified with her femininity to an almost overwhelming degree.  But it was femininity with a core of iron.  Her features were strongly beautiful, an integral face, and she lived in a starkly lovely New Mexico with what amounted to an adoration of the land.

Last year, in September, I was lucky enough to be able to see a lot of her work in one place at the Georgia O’Keefe Museum in Santa Fe. I left proud of being female and American.  She represents, and thus transcends, us all.   Emotionally fragile beneath a veneer of reserve,  tough as cactus spines when it mattered, content in her solitude . . . I understand all that.  I think many women do who’ve weathered marriages, moral collapse, and time, and emerge with a clearer of picture of themselves.  Georgia O’Keefe was all that we are, expanded it onto her canvas, and like the perceptual scale of her paintings, became bigger than life.